As the voluntary benefits industry continues to grow, offering options that serve a wide range of employee needs and circumstances is key for success because a good benefits program only works if employees are engaging and participating.

What we’re seeing now is a shift in the marketplace fueled by the Affordable Care Act and regulation around health care reform. Earlier this year, Guardian’s 2014 Workplace Benefits Study showed that 47% of employers surveyed are planning to ask employees to bear a greater portion of the benefits cost. This is happening at a time when workplace benefits have become even more critical to the financial security of today’s working Americans. As employers seek to shift more of the benefits costs to employees, there is a need to reframe the conversation around this topic.

It starts with the rethinking of responsibilities. Employees need to understand what their risks are. There are specific triggers that prompt people to make purchase decisions, but when it comes to financial health and protecting your financial security, the triggers may not be as obvious. Therefore, employers need to deliver an effective communications strategy that speaks to the value of the benefits being offered at the workplace and help employees understand which coverage options  best meet their needs. There’s a greater need for awareness, education and engagement. Whether it’s protecting their income, their health, their savings or assets; benefits offered at the workplace provide access to valuable solutions that can help employees protect themselves and their families.

Only 22% of employers surveyed in the aforementioned study said they felt “well prepared” to discuss the changing benefits environment with their employees. These findings indicate a need for brokers and carriers to play an even stronger role in the enrollment process — from aiding employee awareness during pre-enrollment and supporting decision making during the enrollment period, to helping employers with post-enrollment analysis and employee election confirmations.

Voluntary benefit offerings are very successful, especially in employers with diverse populations. The products are even better with a comprehensive communications plan around them. Employees need to be aware of the product options available to them. It’s not just life and dental, but also critical illness, cancer, accident and disability. Employers need to implement a multi-channel process that uses a combination of approaches — throughout the enrollment process — to equip employees with the knowledge to make the right benefits choices. Decision support tools, emails, in-person presentations, videos and online enrollment are all important education channels.

Now more than ever, it’s an exciting time to be in the benefits business and we can continue to make a difference. But at the end of the day, it’s still about the working Americans. Even though many employees may not have their employer paying for all their benefits as they did in the past, they still have the same need to protect themselves. Having access through the workplace is invaluable for them. Therefore, it’s important to evolve the experience from just providing access to products to driving awareness of the need, education of the right solutions and enabling an easy enrollment action that will result in active participation.

Falotico will be speaking at the Workplace Benefits Mania conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 30 at 3:30 p.m. on the panel: The New Enrollment Paradigms - Rethinking Responsibility. To find out more about WBM, hosted by EBA’s parent company SourceMedia, click here.

Falotico is assistant vice president of group marketing at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. She can be reached at: phyllis_falotico@glic.com

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